“If you are what you eat
and you don’t know
what you are eating,
do you know what you are?”
- Claude Fischler
When “Organic” isn’t Organic
We go out of our way to choose food with the “organic” label. But what’s really inside the bag?
“There’s a certain expectation that organic food is natural food: that synthetic ingredients that are developed in a lab and then produced in China – that those ingredients are not found in a food that’s labeled “organic,” she says.
But under industry pressure, she says, the USDA’s National Organic Program has added more and more items to the list of chemical or synthetic ingredients that can legally be used in the production of foods that carry the “organic” label. One example she cites is the use of DHA omega-3 as an additive in organic infant formulas and milk. The nutrient is usually found in animal products, but some companies began using a vegetarian version, extracted from algae using chemical solvents – ingredients many consumers wouldn’t consider organic.
“They mix it in with a bunch of synthetic preservatives to get an algae oil which they add to foods, so the food manufacturer can say it’s high in DHA,” says Vallaeys.
Miles McEvoy, deputy administrator of the National Organic Program, says his agency reviewed the issue and determined it had erred when it initially classified the synthetic DHA as an allowable “nutrient vitamin and mineral.” Since then, however, the National Organic Standards Board has recommended that it be included on the list of other permitted additives, a recommendation that is expected to come up for pubic debate in 2013.
He acknowledges that the list of synthetic ingredients permitted in organic food has grown longer but says that’s because regulators have gotten more specific about what’s allowed. Whereas before the agency included a few broad categories of substances that could be used, he says, now it lists the exact chemicals, making the list more restrictive.
If You Have an HOUR…
Browse “scorecards” of organic products at www.cornucopia.org, then support brands that uphold organic values. Ultimately we vote with our decisions on the purchases we make. If your dollars are going to someone who’s perpetrating a fraud, you’re empowering them to do it more.”
If You Have a MONTH…
Apply for the Cornucopia Institute’s internship program for a hands-on chance to advocate for small farms and lobby for changes in organic food policies. For information, email email@example.com.
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